"ҲараҲПицунда" Youth Movement Demands Apology from Abkhazian State Security Service

From left to right: Naida Abidova, Lia Agrba, Valeriya Arshba, and Alexandra Bargandzhia.

From left to right: Naida Abidova, Lia Agrba, Valeriya Arshba, and Alexandra Bargandzhia.

Anaid Gogoryan | Ekho Kavkaza Today, representatives of the "ҲараҲПицунда" (Our Pitsunda) youth movement held a press conference at the ARSMIRA venue. Invitations were extended to officials from the Abkhazian State Security Service (SGB). This conference was in response to remarks made by Zaala Khvartskia, the SGB’s Deputy Chairman, on AGTRK television on 22nd December. In his statement, Khvartskia accused representatives of Abkhazian civil society, including "ҲараҲПицунда" members, of undermining the nation’s political stability.

These comments from the SGB come against the backdrop of a tense political climate, stirred by a proposed bill concerning the transfer of a state datcha in Pitsunda to Russia. The bill, recently resubmitted for parliamentary ratification, faced opposition. On 20th December, various Abkhazian public and political organisations called on President Aslan Bzhania to retract the legislation. The following day, a gathering in Sukhum, which included civil society figures such as Arda Inal-ipa, Batal Kobakhia, and "ҲараҲПицунда" affiliates, openly opposed the agreement's ratification. Abkhazian media outlets report that a parliamentary session to deliberate on this matter is set for 28th December.

Reacting to the escalating involvement of civil society, the SGB, on the evening of 22nd December, broadcast a statement on Abkhazian television. It spoke of "efforts by certain elements within the country, including NGO representatives, to disrupt the political equilibrium." Deputy Chairman Khvartskia remarked that presently, 23 non-governmental organisations and 10 international organisation offices are operational within Abkhazia. From January 2020 to November 2023, these entities have amassed around 2 billion 90 million rubles in foreign funding. He particularly underscored the role of the UNDP, a key international organisation in Abkhazia, predominantly supported by the USAID.

Addressing "ҲараҲПицунда" directly, Zaala Khvartskia expressed:

“The SGB is deeply concerned by the actions of certain citizens who, while vocal in their criticism of the government on a variety of sensitive political matters, including topics pivotal to Abkhaz-Russian relations, are recipients of direct funding from the UNDP. It is noteworthy that around a month prior to the establishment of 'ҲараҲПицунда', the 'AMCH' public organisation, under the leadership of Alisa Pachalia, was granted approximately two million rubles by the UNDP. Over the past three years, this organisation has received a total of 5,674,096 rubles from the same source. The UNDP has also specifically financed individuals, for instance, Naida Abidova, an NGO 'Progress' employee and sister to 'ҲараҲПицунда' activist Aida Abidova. From 2020 to 2023, the 'KOD' organisation, headed by Lia Agrba, received funding amounting to 6,369,084 (around $69,000) rubles from the UNDP. While this funding is purportedly for humanitarian aims, the fact that individuals openly critical of the government and those raising issues potentially detrimental to Abkhaz-Russian relations are financed by bodies perceived as unfriendly or even antagonistic to our interests, raises significant concerns. We are of the opinion that such foreign funding is skewing the general information landscape and contributing to the destabilisation of the political milieu in the Republic of Abkhazia.”

Today, the "ҲараҲПицунда" youth movement published an open statement on their social media page addressed to Temur Akhiba, Chairman of the State Security Service (SGB). The statement read:

"We wish to bring to your attention the recent accusations made by your Deputy Chairman, Zaala Khvartskia, on AGTRK television on the 22nd of December 2023. These accusations, which allege our involvement in destabilising the country's political situation and involve slanderous remarks that impugn the honour and dignity of 'ҲараҲПицунда' members, are based on falsified documents. In light of this, we demand a response by 15:00 today. We expect either a public apology on AGTRK, issued personally by you, through Deputy Chairman Khvartskia, or by other SGB representatives, along with a full retraction of the defamatory information, or an opportunity to address and refute these allegations in an open dialogue at the ARSMIRA venue today at 15:00. Failure to meet these demands will compel us to address the misinformation ourselves.”

During a press conference at ARSMIRA, Lia Agrba, a representative of "ҲараҲПицунда," reported that a letter had been delivered to the SGB at 11 a.m., inviting their representatives to the conference. However, their absence was noted. Agrba speculated that their no-show indicated an inability to substantiate the claims made in their report. She asserted the group's intention to pursue legal channels to defend and restore their infringed rights and labelled the television report as a "malicious and deceitful fabrication."

"We suspect the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a hand in this," Agrba stated, "especially since shortly after the broadcast, an employee of the Ministry, Milana Hashba, published personal details of one of our movement's members, Naida Abidova. In my view, this action is tantamount to a criminal offence."

Agrba also addressed the specific figures mentioned by Khvartskia on AGTRK, notably the 6 million rubles:

“The figure of 6 million rubles, which they allege, was actually far less and was allocated to the 'Mobile COVID Brigade' project. This initiative provided critical support to COVID-19 patients throughout 2021-2022 and assisted the Sukhum Ambulatory Centre, which operated on a volunteer basis. Despite the funding being insufficient, our project received recognition and our doctors were honoured with state medals. As I sit here and recount these events, I find myself having to justify our good deeds. The question arises: why is this necessary? It seems apparent that those named by Khvartskia –Liana Kvarchelia, Astamur Tania, Said Gezerdava– are being targeted due to their opposition to the ratification of the Pitsunda state residence agreement. It's evident that this entire situation is directly connected to that issue. Our project, lasting from 2021 to 2022, was above reproach. If there were any genuine concerns, why were no legal actions taken against us? No investigations have been initiated, yet now, with the renewed focus on Pitsunda, we find ourselves unjustly maligned in public. This defamation affects not only us but our families and those misled by the Abkhazian television broadcast. The blame extends beyond the SGB employees to those who provided them with falsified documents. This leads us to question the origins of these accusations. We have come to learn that the State Security Service has only recently started scrutinising our accounts – a move that implies this information was fed to them. Who is behind this, then? Presumably, those who released our personal information online.”

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Naida Abidova firmly denied any connection to the non-existent NGO 'Progress', challenging the SGB's claims. She emphasised that if the SGB truly had evidence of her and her friends being paid to disrupt the country's stability, they would have initiated investigations and made arrests. Instead, she points out, the youth are being targeted solely for their activism:

“The State Security Service's representatives, through their statements, have not tarnished my reputation, nor my friends', nor our movement's, but rather their own. They have demonstrated a willingness to deceive, a capacity for cowardice and slander, and a reliance on persecution. Their actions show a lack of respect for themselves, the law, and most grievously, the citizens of Abkhazia. By suggesting that our commitment to our country is financially motivated, they have inflicted a far greater insult than any directed at me, Lia, or others named in their report. The AGTRK broadcast insinuated a lack of belief in the Abkhazian citizens' intrinsic motivation to fight for their country.”

Abidova recalled multiple attempts to defame and discredit the youth movement since its inception. Members of “ҲараҲПицунда” have been detained by police and at the Russian-Abkhazian border and have had to defend their rights in court, citing cases involving Aynara Khashig and Rashid Tania. She noted their previous dialogues with SGB representatives, including Deputy Chairman Khvartskia, and continued:

"The actions of the SGB seem designed to intimidate and punish us, to force us to relinquish our opinions and our right to choose the kind of Abkhazia in which we wish to live. They are attempts to erase from our collective memory the issues of Pitsunda, our independence, our Constitution, and our obligations."

Alexandra Bargandzhia underscored that the primary role of the SGB in Abkhazia is to guarantee national security, counter threats to sovereignty, the constitutional order, and territorial integrity, and to combat corruption, organised crime, and the narcotics trade. Yet, she observed that the SGB is presently being manipulated to exert pressure on civil society, questioning the lack of public response from the SGB regarding allegations of multi-million gifts to officials.

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"Whom Does the SGB Truly Serve?" Challenges Bargandzhia

Alexandra Bargandzhia raised a pertinent question regarding the State Security Service's (SGB) allegiance. She highlighted the well-known fact that non-governmental, non-commercial organisations are required to submit detailed financial reports to the Abkhazian tax authorities quarterly and provide annual activity reports to the Ministry of Justice. Furthermore, these organisations regularly submit comprehensive project descriptions to the Abkhazian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Given this level of transparency and accountability, Bargandzhia questioned the lack of media coverage on AGTRK regarding the Ministry’s failure to disclose its financial statements for the second consecutive year. She pointed out that employees of these non-governmental organisations are paid transparently through Abkhazian banks, contrary to the portrayal in the SGB report, and not via Georgia but directly through Russian banks and international organisation offices. This transparency is evident in the financial documents and bank account details that have been leaked on social media. Bargandzhia expressed doubt that such transparency and accountability would be matched by state institutions, especially those funded under the Investment Program. She voiced serious concerns about the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an institution with a pivotal role in the formation of Abkhaz statehood, which now seems to be undermining its historical contributions and isolating itself rather than fostering interactions between Abkhazia and international bodies. "What we are witnessing today," she said, "is the harassment and labelling of our own citizens and activists, efforts to discredit them through absurd means, including the publication of personal bank accounts."

Valeriya Arshba commented on the strategic timing of the events surrounding the ratification of the Pitsunda state residence agreement. She argued that these events were orchestrated to shift public attention away from the critical issue of the residence’s status. She warned that if the agreement were ratified, Pitsunda would no longer fall under Abkhaz jurisdiction. Arshba emphasised the determination of the movement's activists to stand their ground in the face of any intimidation, wherever the fate of the state residence is decided.

"For every one of us, for each citizen of Abkhazia, the foremost priority now is to safeguard Pitsunda. All else is secondary," Naida Abidova asserted in her concluding remarks.

Akhra Aristava
Akhra Aristava

Public figures, veterans of the Abkhazian Patriotic War (Georgian-Abkhazian war of 1992-93 -Ed.) , and activists have been vocal on social media, expressing their discontent and indignation regarding the SGB's statement. Economist Akhra Aristava, in a post on his Facebook page, clarified that no entity in Abkhazia – be it political organisations, public figures, or ordinary citizens – has ever proposed seizing the state residence from Russia. "The universal sentiment," he noted, "is that any new agreement should be mutually advantageous and reflect the interests of the Abkhaz side. Even Russian leaders advocate for mutually beneficial and respectful state relations. However, rather than engaging in constructive dialogue over the agreement's clauses and suggesting amendments, the authorities have resorted to a strategy of vilification. This approach is not only unproductive but also perilous, offering no positive outcome for the Republic of Abkhazia."

Elana Kortua, a psychologist and lecturer at Abkhazian State University, highlighted the ongoing issue of informants within Abkhaz society. "Informers, those who relay information, were not only a blight on the Abkhaz people during the dreadful 1930s but continue to exist today. These individuals – our relatives, neighbours, colleagues, and sometimes even friends – driven by envy, mediocrity, cowardice, and a desire to ingratiate themselves for personal gain, are prepared to resort to various tactics. They compile and disseminate lists of people to be detained and interrogated, place individuals or groups under surveillance, eavesdrop on phone conversations, and closely monitor activities. They intentionally foster a climate of misinformation and incitement, even on state media. Such practices in the 1930s led to the decimation of the Abkhaz nation's elite by its own people, resulting in countless losses, executions, and exiles to labour camps. These methods necessitated a lengthy period of rehabilitation and restoration for the Abkhaz people. Today, as we gradually progress towards becoming an independent, sovereign state, the resurgence of such repressive tactics could lead to irreversible damage to the entire Abkhaz nation," Kortua observed.

This article was published by Ekho Kavkaza and is translated from Russian.




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